TMJ Disorder: The Types, Causes, and Solutions

TMJ disorder types causes solutions

Temporomandibular joint disorder, more commonly known as TMJ disorder or TMD, is one of those weird conditions that no one really knows about until they experience it for themselves.  It’s a terrible feeling that can cause aches and pains in your face, particularly around your jaw or ear area. It can become difficult to chew and your joint may even lock in place for a temporary period of time, making it equally as terrifying as it is painful. However, I’m not here to freak you out. Instead, I’m here to give you the facts… And the inside scoop on all of the ways you can effectively heal your TMJ symptoms at the source and without having to undergo surgery or any of those other intense surgical treatments. So, if you’ve one of the estimated 10 million Americans suffering from TMJ, according to studies, and are in desperate need of some information that is going to help you heal, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I cover everything from the basics to the various forms of treatment available to you, regardless of your insurance plan or budget. Because let’s get serious, no one should have to spend their days in pain or with their jaw locking in place.

What is TMJ?

The first place to start when healing your TMJ is to understand what it actually is. TMJ is the short form used for the temporomandibular joints. These are located on the sides of your face in front of your ears and act as somewhat of a hinge.  These joints connect your bottom jawbone to your skull and allow your jaw to move up and down, side to side. They assist with things, such as speaking, yawning and chewing, and you can easily find them on your face by placing a finger where the bottom of your ears line up with your face and open and close your jaw. However, proceed with caution as this may hurt if you are experiencing problems with your TMJ.

Now that we know TMJ describes the joints, what about the joint pain? This is called TMJ disorder or TMD, which refers to the condition causing the pain and discomfort you’re experiencing. However, most people use these terms interchangeably. In other words, if you were to say that you were experiencing TMJ, most people would understand that you are experiencing TMD – the dysfunction of your TMJ. This can be acute or chronic, mild or severe and depends on a variety of factors, such as the specific cause of your TMJ disorder, location, symptoms, and so on and so forth.  Fortunately, in most cases, the pain and discomfort is temporary and can be relieved with self-managed care or natural treatments.

What Causes TMJ Disorders?

There hasn’t been a definitive conclusion as to what causes TMD, making the exact cause of someone’s TMJ disorder even more difficult to determine. However, there are some theories. Many dentists believe that the symptoms come from some kind of jaw problem, whether it’s with the muscles in the jaw or parts of the TMJ itself. Other medical professionals believe that TMD is caused by some type of injury to your TMJ, jaw, or the muscles in your neck or head, such as whiplash or a heavy blow.

Some other possible causes of TMD are:

  • Arthritis in the joint
  • Grinding or clenching your teeth
  • Movement in the area or disc in the socket of the joint
  • Stress and tension
  • The erosion or movement of a disc disrupting alignment
  • Improper bite

In most cases, the cause remains a mystery.

What Are the Symptoms of TMD?

Pain and discomfort in or area the jaw and ear area are the most common symptoms associated with TMJ disorders. This can range from mild to severe, can be temporary or chronic, and can be experienced on one side or both. You may also feel tenderness, pain and discomfort in other areas, such as in the face, neck or shoulders. TMJ disorders can also cause additional symptoms, such as:

  • Clicking or popping sounds when you open or close your jaw
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Earaches
  • Face feels tired
  • Facial swelling
  • Grating sounds in the jaw
  • Headaches
  • Lock jaw (your jaw gets stuck in an open or closed position)
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Tenderness, pain or discomfort in the face, jaw, neck or shoulders
  • Tooth pain
  • Uncomfortable bite

Treatment Options for TMJ Disorders

The good news is that there are all sorts of treatment options available for TMJ disorders – from natural remedies to simple self-care and everything in between, including conventional medical treatments, injections and surgery. However, let’s focus on the non-surgical, more natural options as they are typically designed to address the problem at the root source to heal the issue once and for all. Additionally, this also means that you don’t have to worry about all of those side effects that come from conventional medications.

Many medical experts also agree that treatment should always begin with nonsurgical options and to only use surgery as a last resort.

Here are some of the most common natural forms of TMJ treatments:

  • Heat and cold therapy: Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for approximately 10 minutes to treat acute pain. Complete a few simple stretching exercises for your jaw and use a warm towel or washcloth on the side of your face for about five minutes. Do this several times a day.
  • Eat softer foods: To avoid your jaw working overtime, eat soft foods such as yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish, cooked fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains.
  • Avoid hard and crunchy foods: To prevent pain, avoid hard, crunchy foods, such as hard rolls, pretzels, raw carrots, as well as chewy foods like caramels and taffy. Don’t chew gum.
  • Use a splint or night guard: Using a splint or night guard or another type of mouthpiece can help eliminate pain as they help correct your bite by placing your jaw in a better position.
  • Correct dental problems: Whether it’s replacing missing teeth or using crowns, bridges or braces to correct your bite, finally following through with fixing any dental problems can drastically help reduce your TMJ pain.  
  • Avoid extreme jaw movements:
    • Minimize yawning and chewing
    • Avoid resting your chin on your hand
    • Don’t hold the telephone between your shoulder and ear.
    • Practice good posture to reduce neck and facial pain.
    • Keep your teeth slightly apart to relieve pressure on the jaw.
    • Place your tongue on the palate behind your upper front teeth to control clenching or grinding during the day
    • Learn relaxation techniques to control muscle tension in the jaw
  • Relaxation techniques: Mindfulness and meditation can help reduce pain by inducing relaxation. These calming activities help by slowing your breathing and relaxing tense muscles
  • Acupuncture: This ancient technique involves inserting thin needles into the body at various points to trigger the central nervous system, as well as your body’s natural healing processes
  • Biofeedback: This form of treatment helps detect areas of stress and tightness in the body, so you can have a greater awareness of where you’re holding tension and are able to work towards relaxing these muscles
  • Radio wave therapy: This form of treatment uses radio waves to create a low-level electrical stimulation to the joint to increase blood flow and pain relief
  • TENS Therapy: This therapy uses low-level electrical currents to relax the jaw joint and facial muscles for pain relief. You can use an at-home machine or receive treatments at a medical facility

Other Forms of TMJ Treatments

Perhaps you’ve tried all of the natural remedies for TMJ or want to skip the alternative health option and head right into conventional treatment options – there are plenty of options available for this as well.  Some of the most common forms of these types of treatments are:

  • Injections: Pain medication or anesthetic is injected into the muscles of the face to relieve pain
  • Botox: These injections help by reducing muscle mass and inflammation in the face
  • Take over-the-counter medications: Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen can help relieve pain and swelling. Muscle relaxants can also help relax the jaw muscles, especially for people who grind or clench their teeth.
  • There are also guides on how to treat your TMJ Disorder naturally. One of our recommendations is The TMJ Solution program.

If left untreated, TMJ disorder can lead to serious health problems, including chronic pain and inflammation, as well as bite issues, tooth erosion, sleep apnea, insomnia, depression and anxiety. It’s also incredibly uncomfortable and there’s no reason for you to suffer, as there is a vast array of treatment options available to you. From natural remedies to conventional medical procedures, you can heal your TMJ disorder and free yourself of those symptoms.

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